Flashback Friday: Roller Coasters

I was originally going to do this on amusement parks in general. Then I realized, I actually hate amusement parks. The food is mediocre and over-priced. The games are cheesy (but the prizes are sometimes nice). And there are tons of people.

I hate people.

But…I love roller coasters. LOVE roller coasters. You know the dorks who stand in line even longer than everyone else so they can ride in the first car? I’m one of them.

Of course, I haven’t been one of “them” in a very long time. I used to go to King’s Dominion a minimum of 10 times every summer. I was a season pass cardholder. Some summers, I went either every weekend or every other weekend. My BFF and her mom were just as addicted as me (yes, this would be my friend and her mother of the “sleepover” flashback).

I don’t really know how to explain the addiction. There’s just something unbelievable about that free-fall feeling. I love the flip-flopping, the heart racing, the breathlessness of it all. I’m also the one who stares out the plane window each time we take off (conversely, I hate driving across bridges; if I went to a psychiatrist, they’d have a field day with me, fo’ sho’).

The very first coaster I ever rode was King’s Dominion’s Grizzly. It’s one of only three wooden coasters at the park, and it is a bear of a ride (just humor me and laugh). I was 7 years old and had gone to the park for the first time with my parents and my mother’s oldest sister and her family. I was barely tall enough to get onto the ride, but they let me on with my aunt. I remember the first couple of hills and the tunnel…and that’s about it. I don’t know whether I blacked out or simply slammed my eyes shut and blocked the rest from my memory. All I do know is that when my dad wanted me to go on the next ride with him, I started to cry at the thought of having to ride another coaster. So I haven’t always been a fan 😉 Obviously, I quickly got over that fear.

Here’s a video of riding in the front seat of the Grizzly. It gets quite jittery, so if you get motion sick easily, you might want to skip this one. But this video also gives you a nice view of the Hurler, a Wayne’s World-themed wooden coaster that’s pretty shweet, the Xtreme SkyFlyer, which is a metal arch from which you can bungee swing (very awesome but costs extra), and the park’s mini-Eiffel Tower.

My favorite modern roller coaster at King’s Dominion is the Volcano. This is a linear induction-launched inverted steel coaster. All that mouthful means is that this coaster is able to launch instantaneously at a rate of 70 mph. The “inverted” part means that your upper body is harnessed and your feet are dangling. Oh, and when the Volcano launches you up, it shoots you through a ring of fire and immediately flips you so, like Steven Tyler sings, “your feet are flying up in the air,” to bring you down from your upward trajectory. Tell me that doesn’t sound awesome?

Here’s a video of riding in the front car of the Volcano. Again, it’s jittery. The part that this video misses is that great moment of antici…pation right at the beginning of the ride. The train slowly leaves the station toward a bend in the track. The moment the last car turns this bend, the trains shoots out at its full 70 mph. From the front car, that wait seems interminable, but the adrenaline rush when it happens is worth the price of admission each and every time.

I also love the Volcano for sentimental reasons. The exterior of the ride has actually been at the park almost since it opened in 1975. It used to house three rides: Haunted River, which was a log flume ride, Smurf Mountain, which was a kiddy ride that would slowly meander through different animatronic scenes of Smurfs at work, at play, and being tormented by Gargamel and Azrael, and the Time Shaft, which sounds dirty but was actually a rotor “flat ride” in which you all entered the circular room, and stood against the wall. The door would shut, the room would start to spin, forcing everyone against the wall with the centrifugal force, and then the floor would drop down about 4 feet. I loved the Time Shaft and was heart-broken when they removed it. But Volcano helped soothe the ache.

Hmm. I guess I should have called this flashback “King’s Dominion.” I’ve only ridden coasters here and at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Busch Gardens was fun, but since I’ve only been once, I don’t really have a good impression of those rides. My only regret is that Drachen Fire was closed when I finally went here…and then a year later it was dismantled. If you don’t know the history of Drachen Fire, check it out in Wikipedia. Talk about a big effing disappointment to that park.

Looks like King’s Dominion has added several new rides since the last time I was there. I haven’t been since probably summer of 2000. Truth is, the grossness of the people became a greater turn-off than the joy I always experienced on the roller coasters. People spat while on the rides or in the sky cars that ran from one side of the park to the other (the park actually removed the sky cars because of how many people spitting and dumping drinks on people below). The crowds grew increasingly rude and aggressive, and then metal detectors appeared at the entrances. That was around the time that I decided I hate people way more than I love roller coasters.

Still, I do miss that feeling. Maybe next summer I’ll take a trip right when the park opens for weekday use. Maybe I can sneak in before the grossness arrives and recapture some of that free-fall fun I used to have when I was a pup.